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Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: No. 9 Baylor, VCU in action

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Drexel at Southern Miss, 8:00 p.m.

This one should be a quality contest, with the Dragons and Golden Eagles both expected to be contenders in their respective conferences. Bruiser Flint’s team may be without Damion Lee (torn ACL) but he’s still got Chris Fouch and Frantz Massenat, and Tavon Allen’s proven to be a capable third scorer.

As for Donnie Tyndall’s Southern Miss squad, they’ve won three straight after losing at Western Kentucky. Balance is the key for the Golden Eagles, with Neil Watson (12.1 ppg) being one of five players averaging between nine and 12.1 points per game. The key for Drexel: taking care of the basketball. Southern Miss may be averaging 14.0 turnovers per game but they’re forcing nearly 18.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Stony Brook at VCU, 9:00 p.m.

Speaking of turnovers, that will also be key for Steve Pikiell’s Seawolves as they visit VCU. VCU’s forcing 20.4 turnovers per game, and when playing the Rams the type of turnover is as important as the quantity. Dead-ball turnovers can be managed; it’s the live-ball turnovers that all VCU to get out in the open floor and in many cases bury the opposition. This game will also feature a really good individual matchup in Stony Brook’s Jameel Warney and VCU’s Juvonte Reddic, with the sophomore Warney being one of the early favorites (if not the favorite) to win America East Player of the Year honors.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW:

1) No. 9 Baylor plays its final non-conference game, hosting Savannah State in Waco. With the Tigers being 2-11 this should be an easy game for the Bears. Scott Drew’s team needs to drop the hammer early.

2) 11-2 George Washington hosts Georgia in a game the Colonials should win. Mike Lonergan’s team has surprised people, with Indiana transfer Maurice Creek (16.1 ppg) leading four players scoring in double figures.

3) South Carolina hosts South Carolina State in a game the Gamecocks will be expected to win, and a stat to watch will be the turnover count. South Carolina State’s averaging 15 per game, and if Frank Martin’s team can apply pressure they may be able to produce some scoring opportunities as a result.

4) Omaha’s trip to Hawaii has the potential to be intriguing as well, with both teams having won ten games. The Mavericks’ chances of winning will depend on whether or not they can slow down Isaac Fotu and Christian Standhardinger inside.

5) Central Connecticut State’s struggled defensively, as opponents are scoring an average of 77.1 points per game and shooting 46.7% from the field. The Blue Devils visit Coastal Carolina, which has three talented guards (Josh Cameron, Warren Gillis and Elijah Wilson) capable of giving them fits.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.